They held hands in a long line, all thirty-eight of them. The line stretched from the front porch of the cottage and extended up over the lip of the vale. Those who were able also held the leashes of as many dogs as they could manage to round up. It was agreed that Rachel should be first in the line. There was no telling the effect the Periphery could have on someone without Woods Magic emerging first. Elsie would take up the rear, so as best to distribute the current. These were the precautions that they’d all worked out, carefully, after the rousing meeting in the cottage dining room.
Rachel shouted from the front. “All connected?”
Each Unadoptable, Carol among them, sounded out along the line. “Yep!” “Uh-huh!” “I am!”
“Okay!” hollered Rachel. “We’re moving.”
And so the line began to snake away from their solitary home in the midst of the Periphery, the one that they’d shared for so many days and nights—days and nights that would’ve amounted to years and years in the outside world; but in here, in this purgatory, it had been like the same day replaying itself, over and over again. They each in turn gave a final glance to the sad little glade and the dilapidated cottage that sat nestled in it. A remnant wisp of smoke trailed from the chimney, like a waving hand bidding them adieu.
As they walked, Elsie wondered on all the things that had transpired over the previous few days. The revelation of her connection to the Impassable Wilderness, while being strange, had somehow not been as big of a surprise to her as she would have expected. It was as if she’d known all along that she’d harbored something bizarre and special. What’s more, the feeling that this gift had some bearing on her brother’s disappearance grew by the hour. Deep down, she’d felt some weird resonance in the circumstances around his leaving, and she could no longer brush it aside as a hallucination.
Rachel, on the other hand, had bristled at the mention of their incredible pedigree. She seemed to wear it like a shameful label. The night before they left, when preparations were being made, Rachel had shushed her sister anytime she’d wanted to bring it up. “It’s nothing,” she’d said. “We should be focusing on just getting out of here.”
There was one thing, though, in all the children’s planning, that they’d failed to consider. They’d forgotten about their identical earrings, the yellow tags hanging from the lobes of their ears. They’d become so accustomed to them, no one thought to imagine what they were for. By the time they’d headed away from the direction of the road and toward what they figured was the eastern edge of the Bind, it was too late.
“Who are you?” demanded Wigman, after he’d recovered from his shock. It was rare that Brad Wigman found himself in a room where he didn’t know absolutely everyone of consequence—particularly considering that the man who had emerged from the closet had a kind of dapper raiment that Wigman could only dream of pulling off.
“Name’s Roger Swindon. I’m not of the Outside.”
“What are you doing here?” Remembering where he was, Wigman turned to Unthank. “What’s he doing here?”
“Well, it’s a bit of a long story—” began Joffrey. He was cut off by Roger.
“As I said, I’ve commissioned him to build a cog. One that will, once it’s finished, prove to have great influence on the affairs of my home country. I’ve offered him a stake in the winnings. He’s failed in the attempt.”
“I gave him five days to build this cog, the one that you saw in the schematic. He has just told me that he is unable to make it.” The strange man walked confidently between Unthank and Wigman and scooped the blueprint from the floor. He shook it out and began to fold it by its worn creases. “Unfortunately, I’m now forced to bring my proposal to another manufacturer. I’d been told he was the best; I see now I was sadly mistaken.”
Wigman glared over at Unthank, who was cowering slightly. “Is this true?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this, Machine Parts?” asked Wigman.
“Well, you were so, I don’t know, unhappy about my … my interest in the Impassable Wilderness. I thought it best to just do it in secret. I was going to tell you eventually, promise.” Unthank was lying to the Chief Titan. In a way, it felt good.
“Joffrey, Joffrey,” chided Wigman. “You have to tell me about these things. I could help you, old man.”
Joffrey began to protest, stammering something about how he had told the Chief Titan about it, and Wigman had only ever given him scorn and reprimands.
Wigman wasn’t listening. “What were the terms?” he asked, speaking over Unthank as he turned to face Roger.
“Produce the Cog, have free and unfettered access to the Impassable Wilderness and all the resources you can plunder. Simple as that.”
Unthank objected. “Well, it’s not quite that simple. This piece, this Möbius Cog, is one of the most complex and intricate things I’ve—”
Wigman waved him aside. “Suppose I got involved. Redoubled our attempt. Would you give us more time?”
Roger seemed to chew on the idea for a moment. Finally, he said, “I’m afraid my confidence in your man has been badly shaken. Redoubling efforts is the least that can be done—but may yet prove to be insufficient. No, I shall have to find another manufacturer, someone who can meet my demands.”
Joffrey, despite himself, stifled a laugh. “Mr. Swindon, sir, with all due respect, there is no …” He paused, a thought coming over him. “Unless. Unless.”
“Unless?” asked Wigman.
“Wait a second,” said Unthank. “Hear me out for a second. I got really, really close to making this thing, to succeeding. So close that I could taste it. If I just had a little help, I’m sure I could build it.” He reached his hand out to Roger, asking for the blueprint. It was given with some reluctance. He then waved the two men to the desk, where he flattened the schematic out on the surface. He pointed to two scrawled names on the bottom of the page. Unthank read them aloud; he’d spent many hours marveling over the two names—imagining what these men must’ve looked like. The skill that had been required to not only build the thing, but to design it, was simply staggering. “Esben Clampett. Carol Grod,” he intoned. “I need them.”
“Well, where are they?” asked an indignant Wigman.